Tag Archives: Democracy

The trilemma of Big Tech

By Karin Pettersson – Last week Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage in San Jose, California, and presented his vision for the future at the company’s yearly developers’ conference.

The attention given to the conference by the world’s media was testimony to the fact that Facebook is now more powerful than most nation states. Its products provide the infrastructure for core democratic functions such as free speech, distribution of news and access to information. Our societies, to a larger and larger degree, are shaped by how Zuckerberg and a small elite of Silicon Valley business leaders choose to do business. And the results, frankly speaking, are catastrophic.

‘Have social media made the world a better place?’ Poppy Harlow of CNN asked the influential tech writer Kara Swisher ‘No, not now’ was the dry answer.

The founder of the modern web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called for regulation of the internet as the only way to save it, and the virtual-reality pioneer and internet philosopher Jaron Lanier has written a book about why people should get off ‘social media’ as soon as possible.

The current situation is clearly unsustainable and the measures taken so far to address it insufficient. But before discussing solutions we need to define what the problem is. And here it is easy to get lost in details and anecdotes. Not all of the problems of social networks are fatal to democracy.

The economist Dani Rodrik has framed the discussion around the state of the world economy as a trilemma, where hyperglobalization, democratic policies and national sovereignty are mutually incompatible. We can, he argues, combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.

It might be conceptually useful to structure the discussion of the global information space in an analogous manner. One can have democracy, market dominance and business models that optimize for anger and junk—but only two at a time. more>

Democracy splutters—good governance under pressure

Amid political polarization and declining democratic standards, can OECD and EU countries sustain the good governance challenges such as globalization, social inequality and climate breakdown demand?
By Christof Schiller – Eroding standards of democracy and growing political polarization are severely hampering the implementation of sustainable reforms. This is one of the main findings in the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) 2018 study by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

SGI is an international monitoring tool, which sheds light on the future viability of all 41 countries in the OECD and the European Union. On the basis of 140 indicators, we assess democratic standards, the quality of governance and reforms in the areas of economics, social affairs and the environment. More than 100 international experts are involved in our cross-national survey.

The most recent study highlights how waning standards of democracy and growing political polarisation hamper sustainable reform. Governments in countries including the United States, Hungary and Turkey are deliberately stoking social tensions rather than seeking consensus.

The report shows that the quality of democracy in many western industrial nations is waning, with democratic standards declining in 26 of the countries surveyed, compared with similar data from four years earlier. ‘Even within the OECD and the EU, the model of liberal democracy is subject to growing pressure—in some countries this means that even central democratic and constitutional standards such as media freedoms are already severely damaged or undermined,’ it finds.

Compounding this worrying trend, the study’s authors identify a simultaneous decline in the adequacy of governance, with many countries losing ground on key measures of good governance. more>

Democratising Europe: by taxation or by debt?

Europe desperately needs to resolve its collective-action problem to emerge from the crisis. Democratizing Europe, with a fiscal capacity, is better than monetary easing.
By Manon Boujou, Lucas Chancel, Anne-Laure Delatte, Thomas Piketty, Guillaume Sacriste, Stéphanie Hennette and Antoine Vauchez – On December 10th 2018 we launched a Manifesto for the Democratization of Europe, along with 120 European politicians and academics. Since it was launched, the manifesto has accrued over 110,000 signatures and it is still open for more. It includes a project for a treaty and a budget enabling the countries which so wish to set up a European Assembly and a genuine policy for fiscal, social and environmental justice in Europe—all available multilingually on the website.

In the Guardian, on December 13th, Yanis Varoufakis presented his ‘Green New Deal’ as an alternative to the manifesto, which he considers to be irrelevant.

The Varoufakis plan builds on the European Investment Bank (EIB) which is responsible for issuing bonds to the value of €500 billion per annum, including these securities in the program of purchase of securities by the European Central Bank (ECB).

The main criticism by Varoufakis seems to be the following: why do you want to create yet more new taxes when one can create money? Our budget is indeed financed by taxation, whereas his plan is financed by public debt.

In his proposals, private firms involved in the ecological transition borrow money from the ECB, after having been selected by the EIB.

In fact, part of this arrangement already exists in the form of the Juncker plan. What Varoufakis adds is the purchase of securities by the ECB rather than by private investors. more>

Averting The Death Of Social Democracy

By Neal Lawson – Reformist social democracy has just two problems that result in its crisis. The first is that it’s heading in the wrong direction. The second is that it’s heading in the wrong direction in the wrong way.

If this crisis is to be averted then we need to understand why the ends and means are wrong and establish a different set of goals and ways of achieving them – ones applicable to the tail end of the second decade of the 21st century.

To set out an alternative course and process to get there is not so difficult. Some ideas are offered below. Others are available. What is difficult, and could well be impossible, is the ability of social democrats to truly adapt or transform both their course and their culture. Instead of change, their stock response is to blame the media, poor communications or even the people, and go on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

Even when some recognize the scale of the crisis, they shrug because meaningful change is more difficult to face than the prospect of electoral annihilation. If social democrats can’t or won’t transform themselves then it will be up to others to carry the torch for a society that is more equal, democratic and sustainable and to fight the lurch to the far right.

Let’s start by observing that the crisis is not tactical or cyclical but existential because it is cultural and structural. It can be witnessed most obviously and dramatically through the electoral decline of almost every social democratic party in Europe. The Dutch, French and Greek parties have or have almost been eradicated. The Germans, the Italians and even the Scandinavians and Nordics struggle for life. more>

Why the Red Hen incident so troubles us as Americans

By Mark Penn – The United States of America is creeping toward creating a more imperfect union, one dominated by the power of the online mob that is threatening to disassemble more than 200 years of learning.

It was in “Federalist 10” that James Madison, the father of the Constitution, discussed the human tendency to divide into factions, which he defined as groups of people “who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens” and to the community. He warned how the zeal for certain government policies, for passionate leaders and for different religions could lead us to a society inflamed “with mutual animosities.”

Welcome to America 2018. Madison’s solution then was to tame the forces of the moment through a republic as opposed to a pure democracy.

This is done by electing the people’s representatives from across the country who would be more sensible and objective. They would face periodic elections, but were to be freed from the easily inflamed mobs that would be quick to trample the rights of others.

But in the modern age, as I document in “Microtrends Squared,” people are increasingly divided into factions, and whether it is through their news channels or their Twitter feeds, the ability to whip up crowds quickly and with slanted information has never been easier, or more dangerous. Forget about the Russians dividing us, we have to worry about us Americans doing the job of tearing the nation apart. more>

From a nation at risk to a democracy at risk: Educating students for democratic renewal

BOOK REVIEW

How Democracies Die, Authors: Madeleine Albright, Ronald Inglehart, Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

By Fernando Reimers – Public schools were invented to prepare people for self-governance, and to work with others towards the improvement of their communities and for the betterment of society. These were the arguments Horace Mann used, in the 1830s, when he led a successful advocacy campaign to launch public education in Massachusetts. Since then, schools in America have in many ways provided students the capacities necessary to engage civically, to collaborate with others, across lines of difference, in making society better.

As American democracy has evolved, so have the ways in which schools embrace their civic mission. For much of their history, our public schools did not hold women and men to similar expectations, nor did they adequately educate African Americans and other ethnic minorities. It was only when social movements, such as the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, broadened our collective understanding of who should be included in the opportunity to participate in this democratic experiment of self-rule, that schools, in turn, broadened their focus to prepare women and minorities for civic engagement and leadership.

The global democratic setback is the most severe since the end of World War II.

It is time to replace the powerful compact and narrative that A Nation At Risk provided to guide our schools three decades ago, with a more capacious vision for how our schools can help our students stand up for a democracy that is very much at risk. more>

The future of political warfare: Russia, the West, and the coming age of global digital competition

By Alina Polyakova and Spencer Phipps Boyer – The Kremlin’s political warfare against democratic countries has evolved from overt to covert influence activities. But while Russia has pioneered the toolkit of asymmetric measures for the 21st century, including cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, these tools are already yesterday’s game. Technological advances in artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and machine learning, combined with the growing availability of big data, have set the stage for a new era of sophisticated, inexpensive, and highly impactful political warfare.

In the very near term, it will become more difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between real and falsified audio, video, or online personalities. Malicious actors will use these technologies to target Western societies more rapidly and efficiently. As authoritarian states such as Russia and China invest resources in new technologies, the global competition for the next great leap in political warfare will intensify.

As the battle for the future shifts to the digital domain, policymakers will face increasingly complex threats against democracies. The window to mount an effective “whole-of- society” response to emerging asymmetric threats is quickly narrowing. more>

Tech Vs. Democracy

By Guy Verhofstadt – In an age when most people get their news from social media, mafia states have had little trouble censoring social-media content that their leaders deem harmful to their interests. But for liberal democracies, regulating social media is not so straightforward, because it requires governments to strike a balance between competing principles.

After all, social-media platforms not only play a crucial role as conduits for the free flow of information; they have also faced strong criticism for failing to police illegal or abusive content, particularly hate speech and extremist propaganda.

These failings have prompted action from many European governments and the European Union itself. The EU has now issued guidelines for Internet companies, and has threatened to follow up with formal legislation if companies do not comply. As Robert Hannigan, the former director of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, recently observed, the window for tech companies to reform themselves voluntarily is quickly closing.

In fact, Germany has already enacted a law that will impose severe fines on platforms that do not remove illegal user content in a timely fashion. more>

Is democracy essential?

BOOK REVIEW

Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, Author: Ian Bremmer.

By Ian Bremmer – In advanced economies, young adults are more likely than older people to prefer technocracy to democracy. The study found that in the U.S., 46 percent of those aged 18 to 29 would prefer to be governed by experts compared with 36 percent of respondents aged 50 and older.

Perhaps most alarming was the revelation than one quarter of millennials agreed that “choosing leaders through free elections is unimportant.” Just 14 percent of Baby Boomers and 10 percent of older Americans agreed.

In a world where even the Communists are no longer communists (China’s state-capitalism is a far cry from Marx, to be sure), there’s no competing ideology forcing those who live in democracies to consider what life might be like without it.

Or maybe it’s that democracy in America no longer seems to be working. During the 1930s, economic depression led many to look abroad for alternatives to democracy and free-market capitalism.

American millennials have never stood in a bread line, but they have experienced the most severe financial crisis since the 30s, a dramatic widening of the gap between richest and poorest, a hollowing out of the middle and working classes, and a level of dysfunction and petty partisan hostility in Washington that seems to get worse by the week.

Then there’s the Trump effect. more>

How Americans became vulnerable to Russian disinformation

By Kent Harrington – Last week, Congress unveiled legislation that http://blogs.strategygroup.net/wp2/economy/?p=63300&preview=truewould force Facebook, Google, and other social media giants to disclose who buys online advertising, thereby closing a loophole that Russia exploited during the election.

Strip away the technobabble about better algorithms, more transparency, and commitment to truth, and Silicon Valley’s “fixes” dodge a simple fact: its technologies are not designed to sort truth from falsehoods, check accuracy, or correct mistakes. Just the opposite: they are built to maximize clicks, shares, and “likes.”

Despite pushing to displace traditional news outlets as the world’s information platforms, social media’s moguls appear content to ignore journalism’s fundamental values, processes, and goals. It is this irresponsibility that co-sponsors of the recent advertising transparency bill are seeking to address.

Still, Russia’s success in targeting American voters with bogus news could not have succeeded were it not for the second problem: a poorly educated electorate susceptible to manipulation. The erosion of civics education in schools, the shuttering of local newspapers – and the consequent decline in the public’s understanding of issues and the political process – conspire to create fertile ground for the sowing of disinformation. more>